Sermon for Advent Sunday
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 28, 2010
“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” Isaiah 28:16-17
Most of you know that I am a big fan of Ravi Zacharias. I think he is one of the clearest thinkers and best articulators of the Christian faith today. I remember hearing him relay the following story about his first encounter with postmodernism in a totally unexpected place.
Postmodernism tells us there’s no such thing as truth; no such thing as meaning; no such thing as certainty. I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts. He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.” I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?” He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.” I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?” He said, “That is correct.” I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?” All of a sudden there was silence. You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.
The quotation that I began with this morning was from the Prophet Isaiah, and is the alternate Old Testament lesson appointed for this morning. We hear in that passage the familiar imagery of our coming Messiah as a tried, precious, and perfect corner stone or foundation stone. Shouldn’t we expect the One who laid the foundations of the world to have nothing less than a perfect foundation upon which we are to ground and anchor our faith? The author and perfecter of that faith is indeed a most stable rock for us to seek sure footing.
We come again to the beginning of our new church year, and those lessons that bring to our minds thoughts of longing, expectation, and waiting. We know what we are longing and waiting for because we know the rest of the story, but how are preparing to welcome our Lord and Saviour once again? Also, do we remember that a Christian notion of Advent doesn’t simply stop at the Incarnation, but continues all the way through to the end of time and the last judgment?
If we take another look at our Collect and Epistle lesson for this morning, I think we will see that we have so much more to consider.
In our Prayer Book there are two seasons of the church year in which a collect is repeated for more than simply its octave. Advent and Lent are those two occasions. For the next four weeks we will hear the ancient words that framed the opening of our service this morning. We come again asking Almighty God to give to us that wonderful gift of himself, His grace, in order that we may cast away the works of darkness. As we know from the Prophet Isaiah, and as repeated again by St. Matthew, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” With the birth of the Messiah, all the people were living in a dark time, and now the light which was the light of men has come into the world. As St. John continues, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” This is what it means to build our lives upon that stone, that tried stone, that precious corner stone, that sure foundation.
Our Epistle to the Romans echoes that same thought of dark vs. light when St. Paul declares that we are to, “awake out of sleep.” When sleeping we are engulfed in darkness, and we are to rouse from our slumber so that we can keep vigil and watch for what is to come.
What is coming?
Well, for one, the source of our defense against powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The armour of light that we are to put on is Jesus himself. St. Paul exhorts us to put on the Lord Jesus, and that is the only way that we can repel the temptations that will inevitably be coming our way.
We are to expect an assault from outside of this world, and that power of darkness will use everything at his disposal to keep us slumbering and sleeping. Our Lord Jesus even bid his disciples on that first Maundy Thursday to stay awake, and pray that they might not fall prey. Our lessons, our hymns, our prayers all convey that notion that the Evil One will constantly bombard us with the temptation to let down our guard. He will attack us the most when are at our weakest, when we are tired and on the verge of sleep.
It seems to happen when we are under pressure in our job, in our marriage, with our children. We lose our patience at the drop of a hat. The least little thing seems to set us off, and we do the opposite of what we are asked to do. We are quick to speak, and slow to listen. We fire off at the handle, and then look back and can’t even remember why. We find ourselves in the midst of great darkness, and there seems to be no light at all. I know this is true because I know it all too well.
This is when we must be more fervent in prayer, and pull that armour back out of the closet from where we put it away the last time we said we didn’t need it any longer; or when we said to ourselves that it didn’t fit too good anymore; or worse, when we said that we didn’t look good in it anymore. For those times when wearing the armour of light was no longer a badge of honour, but a hindrance to our own wishes and desires.
Finally, we must remain awake because there is more that remains beyond this life. As our collect reminds us, the very reason that our Lord Jesus came to visit us in great humility was so that we might be redeemed, and after His judgment rise to the life immortal. Our destiny is not just this life, but eternity with our Triune God.
Unfortunately, the designer of the Wexner Center was dead wrong when he declared that life had no real design and no real meaning, and was simply random and capricious. We serve a God who laid the foundation of the world, and has given us a sure foundation upon which we might place our sure trust and hope. That foundation is tried and precious, and is ours to cling to with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength. Clinging to that precious cornerstone is the only way that we might have any hope to cast away the works of darkness, and don the armour of light that will protect us from anything the Prince of Darkness might hurl our way.